LeBron James hasn’t compiled one of the greatest resumes in NBA history over the course of his 17-year NBA career.
As a 4-time MVP, 3-time NBA champion, 3-time NBA Finals MVP, 16-time All-Star and 16-time All-NBA performer, he’s widely considered one of the greatest players of all-time, and some even believe he rivals Michael Jordan as the GOAT.
But there’s one former NBA star who doesn’t think James ranks among the best to ever lace ’em up.
That star is long-time James rival Paul Pierce.
Pierce’s career does little to match that of James’, but that doesn’t mean his resume isn’t impressive in itself.
“The Truth” is a 10-time All-Star and won an NBA title in 2008 with the Boston Celtics, earning Finals MVP in the process.
On ESPN’s NBA Countdown this week, Pierce laid out his reasoning for why James isn’t one of the five greatest players of all-time in his estimation.
“It all came from ‘The Last Dance’ Episode 10, and it went back to a clip where Michael Jordan said, ‘I want to build up an organization.’ All of the great players built up their organizations. Kareem, Magic, Kobe and Shaq continued the tradition, Bird continued the tradition of the Boston Celtics, Jordan starting a tradition in Chicago. Tim Duncan – the Spurs weren’t even on the map before Tim Duncan got there, he built up that organization. I go back and ask myself, what has LeBron done to build up an organization from the ground up?”
Of the players in Pierce’s top five, three played with one franchise for their entire careers (Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant), while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played 14 of his 20 NBA seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and Michael Jordan played 13 of his 15 NBA seasons with the Chicago Bulls.
James has played for three different franchises in his 17 years in the league.
In addition, each of those Pierce’s top five players has won at least five championships with one franchise. James has won three titles during his career: two in Miami and one in Cleveland.
While Pierce’s list has been criticized to no end on social media, there is no player in NBA history to have matched up with James more – and have more success against James – than Pierce, making him at least somewhat qualified to discuss LeBron’s career.
James and Pierce have matched up 39 times in the regular season, and although James has outperformed Pierce individually – LeBron averaged 29.3 points, 6.5 assists, and 6.7 rebounds compared to Pierce’s averages of 20.2 points, 3.9 assists, and 5.6 rebounds – Pierce won 21 of those 39 matchups.
However, in 30 playoff games against Pierce, James averaged 29.1 points, 5.3 assists, and 8.4 rebounds, while Pierce averaged 17.0 points, 2.8 assist, and 4.8 rebounds, and James holds a career playoff record against Pierce of 17-13.
The two have had multiple historic battles against each other, including Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals, when LeBron scored 45 points in Boston, but Pierce’s 41 points were enough to push the Celtics past the Cavaliers.
Kendrick Perkins, a former teammate of both Pierce and James, gave more context as to just how deep the rivalry between the two stars goes, explaining that the animosity dates back to James’ rookie year in 2003.
“Paul and LeBron have never liked each other since LeBron’s rookie year. We are playing in Columbus, Ohio my rookie season against the Cleveland Cavaliers. [LeBron’s] first preseason game is against Paul Pierce. Paul is talking big noise to the Cavs bench, LeBron and Drew Gooden are all sitting over there and Paul actually spits over there at the bench, the ultimate disrespect. After the game, both teams were meeting in the back. Guys were ready to fight. We had to hold people back. Ever since that moment, LeBron James and Paul Pierce have hated each other.”
So, is Pierce onto something leaving James out of his top five? Has LeBron really never built a franchise from the ground up? Or is this just continued animosity toward LeBron from his greatest rival?
Skip Bayless believes that those head-to-head victories over LeBron stick out in Pierce’s mind when ranking all-time greats, which is why he justifiably left James out of his top five, even though Bayless believes Pierce isn’t speaking completely objectively.
“What’s the driving force here? LeBron and Paul went at it, they guarded each other often. And remember, the first two times they played, in 2008 and 2010, Paul got the best of LeBron. So it wasn’t like it was a mismatch all the way. It wasn’t like Paul got shamed in this rivalry, because he didn’t get shamed early on. He got busted up later, but early he did more of the busting than LeBron did.”
“Paul Pierce saw LeBron at his all time greatest and he saw LeBron at his worst, sometimes in the very same game. Seeing LeBron at his lowest is sticking in Paul Pierce’s psyche and he can’t justify putting him in the Top 5.”
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) May 21, 2020
However, there are few – if any – that have agreed with Pierce’s assessment of James not being a top five player all-time.
Paul Pierce doesn’t have LeBron James in his top 5 list of all time NBA players. pic.twitter.com/4Yq2IBa4zU
— trey wingo (@wingoz) May 21, 2020
CBS Sports’ Sam Quinn brought up the point that Pierce’s lone championship in 2008 was not the result of him building up the Celtics franchise as much as it was Boston acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
“There’s a shred of irony in Pierce taking that stance considering his championship didn’t come until his team acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Most lists would staunchly disagree with Pierce for leaving LeBron out of the top five. Both ESPN and CBS Sports released rankings this month that had James at No. 2 overall, behind Jordan in both cases. In purely statistical terms, James leads Bryant, whom Pierce ranked ahead of him, in points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals per game while having higher shooting percentages from both the field and the 3-point line.”
LeBron’s current Lakers teammate and former teammate with the Cavaliers Danny Green took a diplomatic approach in disagreeing with Pierce, saying that he’s entitled to his opinion, even if he doesn’t agree with it.
“LeBron is definitely in my top five and I think he’s in most people’s top five, but that’s Paul’s opinion. He’s earned that. He was a great player in our league, and these are the guys he looked up to. They had their battles throughout the years and that’s probably part of the reason why.”
Even Perkins, a great friend of Pierce’s, had to go against his championship teammate from 2008.
Paul Pierce my BROTHER I love til the Casket close and I can understand if LeBron James is not your GOAT but for him not to be on your Top 5 All-Time list is just Blasphemy!!!!
— Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) May 20, 2020
Pierce is in the minority of people that believe James isn’t one of the five greatest players of all-time, and chances are, that minority might continue to get smaller as LeBron’s career continues.
But, in Pierce’s defense, no one has seen LeBron firsthand more than him, and maybe, he has a view on his game that millions of others don’t have.
James still has time to add to his legacy, and if the NBA returns this season, his Lakers are in the hunt for an NBA title, which would be LeBron’s fourth overall and third with a different franchise.
If LeBron pulls it off, maybe “The Truth” will take another stab at his top five.